Fr. Peter Mary Vecellio
Fr. Peter Mary Vecellio
The world needs St. Joseph for help amid the complications of modern times, a Carmelite priest said Sept. 25 during an Archdiocese of Portland speaker series for the Year of St. Joseph.

Father Peter Mary Vecellio, superior at the Carmelite House of Studies in Mount Angel, said that because St. Joseph cared for Jesus and Mary, he is a good patron for adoptive parents, fathers of unborn children and other situations of modern life in which people need protection. In addition, since St. Joseph guarded Jesus, who was an unplanned pregnancy, he is an apt patron for unborn children. Joseph also saved Jesus from the murderous plans of King Herod, who had many baby boys killed in an attempt to murder Jesus.

“He can guard the holy innocents of our time,” Father Peter said, sitting in front of a statue of St. Joseph holding the child Jesus. “We really need him now.”

Father Peter described how St. Teresa of Avila, foundress of his community and doctor of the church, energized devotion to St. Joseph in the 16th century. She explained that while some saints seem to specialize in certain types of help, St. Joseph assists with everything.

St. Teresa said he aided her when she was oppressed by enemies and when she faced dangers. She was confident that St. Joseph has God’s ear.

Citing papal teachings, Father Peter explained that Joseph is a good patron of expectant mothers because of the tender mercy and care he showed a pregnant Mary, even though he knew the baby was not his natural child.

The family situation of St. Joseph makes him the greatest saint other than Mary, Father Peter said. “Can you imagine living with Jesus and Mary?” he asked. “I would think that would have an effect on you.”

Tradition has it that when the Holy Family entered Egypt, the baby Jesus’ presence caused the statues and temples of Egyptian gods to crumble and topple. Evil spirits fled, the story goes.

That scene is one that gave St. Joseph, the earthly leader of the family, a reputation as a “terror of demons,” said Father Eric Andersen in an Oct. 13 online talk about the saint.

Speaking from near the St. Joseph statue in St. Stephen Church in Southeast Portland, Father Andersen cited spiritual writers who have built up a strong tradition of St. Joseph. Among them was Mother Maria Cecilia Baij, an 18th-century Benedictine nun whose “Life of St. Joseph” speculates on the saint’s inner life and his feelings about the incarnation, finding the lost Jesus in the temple and other events. Mother Maria Cecilia’s work appears to be the basis for the Way of St. Joseph, a set of reflections embodied in bas-relief sculptures in The Grotto’s upper gardens in Northeast Portland.

Father Andersen cited Archbishop Fulton Sheen, who said that when Joseph led the Holy Family into Egypt, the Exodus was reversed and the saint was guardian of the living manna for which the world yearned. Because God called St. Joseph to be part of salvation in so important a way, the saint has great power, Father Andersen explained.

Theologians long pondered how an earthly man like Joseph could have authority over God incarnate. The solution is that Joseph was chosen by God to cooperate in the fatherhood of Jesus in a moral way even though he was not the birth father.

“Jesus wished to be subject to St. Joseph,” Father Andersen said. “Joseph is a visible representative of the heavenly father.”

Joseph’s power over demons comes in large part, the priest concluded, because he was allowed to be part of the hypostatic order, that union of God and human that was Jesus. Satan fears that union and so fears St. Joseph, Father Andersen said.